More than bricks and mortar: CEO Kevin Ford cuts ribbon on Calian’s new Kanata South HQ

calian
From left: Coun. Marianne Wilkinson, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, Calian Group CEO Kevin Ford and Coun. Shad Qadri at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Calian's new Kanata South headquarters. Photo provided by Calian.

A man who always wears his heart on his sleeve, Kevin Ford couldn’t hide his emotions during an open house Wednesday evening at Calian Group’s new headquarters in Kanata South.

The company’s CEO was as thrilled as anyone about its move a few kilometres south from its former head office on Legget Drive to its new 35,000-square-foot home at 770 Palladium Dr., a stone’s throw from the Canadian Tire Centre.

But as Ford told OBJ after the ribbon-cutting, just being able to work anywhere is a blessing.

Less than six months ago, Ottawa’s 2017 CEO of the Year was hospitalized after suffering a “cardiovascular event” over the Easter weekend. Now on the road to recovery, Ford, his voice briefly wavering, said he’s looking forward to being in the new office on a full-time basis later this month.

“If I’ve ever taken the (University of Ottawa) Heart Institute for granted, I don’t (now),” he said. “We’re so lucky to have that facility here ​– it literally saved my life in many ways. I’m feeling great and just happy to still be here, happy to be in a community that has such amazing health-care facilities.”

Naturally, Calian’s new digs have all the amenities you’d expect of a rapidly growing tech firm – plenty of natural light, meeting rooms and open spaces for collaboration. But Ford – a boss who always stresses the importance of teamwork and never misses a chance to credit others for his company’s success – said it’s not the space itself that gets him excited about Calian’s future.

770 Palladium
Calian will initially occupy 35,000 square feet at 770 Palladium Dr., but CEO Kevin Ford has plans to fill the remainder in due course.

The CEO said Calian, which is on pace to post record revenues of $300 million in fiscal 2018 and is riding a streak of 67 consecutive profitable quarters, is poised for bigger things ahead after a spate of major contract wins and two acquisitions that have bolstered its cybersecurity and health-care service offerings.

“This is a big milestone for this company,” Ford told the assembled crowd that included Mayor Jim Watson and local councillors Shad Qadri and Marianne Wilkinson. “It’s so easy just to look at it as bricks and mortar, but it’s more important than that.”

To start, Calian will occupy the entire top floor and about half of the third floor in the four-storey structure. But it has the right of first refusal to much more of it, and it intends to use it.

"Our goal is to take over this whole freakin' building."

“As I told our staff on Monday, our goal is to take over this whole freakin’ building,” Ford said to rousing applause.

A diverse company with services that range from running health-care clinics on military bases to supplying communications systems to space agencies, Calian employs more than 3,000 people across Canada, including about 160 at its new HQ.

The firm has long espoused a strategy of growing both organically and through acquisitions. Two of those acquisitions have come this year, illustrating both the company’s diverse line of products and its aggressive approach to expanding its market reach.

Last month, Calian acquired Calgary-based Priority One, a firm that provides specialized psychological assessments to law enforcement officers to help determine whether they’re fit to carry firearms. That came just over two months after it acquired Ottawa IT security firm Secure Technologies, a move designed to boost its presence in the rapidly expanding cybersecurity market.

“Every acquisition we do is either helping us get new customers into Calian … or bringing new capabilities to Calian that we can take to our markets, either current or future,” Ford said on Wednesday.

“That being said, you’ve got to be smart. There’s a lot of people looking at cyber(security). You’ve got to do your due diligence on what lane you want to swim in. Same with health care – there’s so many lanes you can swim in, so you really want to take the time, do your research, make sure you’re going into an area where you can differentiate and not just become one of many. You want to become one of few. And from my perspective, we’re doing that. You’ve got to take your time and find the right companies that are going to help you get to your strategic objectives.”

Ford said Calian, which has made more than 15 acquisitions in its 36-year history, is always on the lookout for potential M&A targets. He said courting potential partners is as much about finding out who will fit in well with existing employees as it is about how they’ll fill in missing blanks in the long-term business blueprint.

“Acquisitions, they’re a great tool, but you’ve got to be careful you don’t just buy a company just to buy them,” he said. “They’ve got to be part of your structure, your strategy, they’ve got to fit in culturally.”

"We're a proud Ottawa company, and this is just the next step in our evolution."

Ford said his priority is continuing to find new ways to broaden and improve the company’s service offerings and expand its footprint both nationally and globally.

The fact that he’ll now be doing all that a five-minute walk from the home of the Senators is a nice bonus, he added.

“I’ll be the only guy hoping they don’t make it to LeBreton Flats any time soon,” he joked. “We’re a proud Ottawa company, and this is just the next step in our evolution.”